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Introduction to Cyberpoetry
by Jeffrey Woodward

How rarely do we discover in one person the combined gifts of the artist and poet?  The Tang landscape painter Wang Wei, the Edo literati-painter Yosa Buson, the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, the Romantic engraver William Blake or the Dadaist sculptor and collagist Hans Arp -- few other names come to mind.

Werner Reichhold's early educational background and training in Hamburg and Berlin -- in a Germany still overshadowed by the great war, foreign occupation and reconstruction -- centered upon the fine arts. From 1955-1995, in group and individual exhibitions, his reputation was primarily that of a professional artist.  He came to poetry gradually it seems, during a long process of maturation and in an adopted homeland --California. 

The rarity of such gifts might be further weighed with the knowledge that his poetry is a consequence not only of removal to an alien environment but also of immersion in a second language -- English.  The artist's long-time marriage to an accomplished American sculptor, ceramicist and poet, Jane Reichhold, may have eased this transition somewhat.
The parallels between the creative life of the author of Cyberpoetry and that of his elder countryman, Hans Arp, are quite remarkable in this respect.  Both men first received recognition for their sculpture, though Hans often publicly stated that he was a poet first, an artist second -- a formulation, perhaps, inverted for Werner.  Both men wrote poetry in their native German as well as in an adopted tongue -- French for Hans, English for Werner.  Both men benefited from a long marital collaboration with another artist -- Hans with Sophie Tauber, Werner with Jane.

I queried the poet about these similarities and was delighted to discover that in Hamburg in 1953, as a youthful twenty-eight year-old art student, he made the acquaintance of Arp, with whom he felt a true affinity, and the famous artist kindly showed a personal interest in his early drawings.

If I have dwelt at length upon the poets fine arts training, career and affiliations, I have done so only to emphasize that, from the large drawings and installations to the poetic language of the printed page, there is a marked continuity in the work of this man.  The line in his drawings, for example, is rapid and forever shifting, the hand and eye allowing chameleon-like transformations as well as a repeated return to certain motifs, only representational in passing, that hint at personal obsession.  A close reading of his poetry demonstrates a similar nervous energy, an unwillingness to admit of any fixed referent -- a contextual environment, in other words, as susceptible to immediate and constant permutation as is the artists graphic line.

Haiku and tanka are the two poetic forms most often recognizable in Werner Reichhold's work, though he is scarcely a practitioner of either form in a rigidly traditional sense.  Haiku and tanka are employed, instead, along with free-verse, prose, ghazals, dialogues and even riddles, as foundational elements or building blocks of the larger compositions that he designates as inter-genre sequences (the use, in one text, of these many differing compositional structures) or symbiotic sequences (similar heterogeneous texts but framed with one or more collaborators).

To state the above, however, is neither to dismiss nor excuse the poets haiku and tanka styles.  Let us look closely at two haiku for sake of illustration:

summer is hiding
                 in a single cloud
                 her absence
From "Unnamed Visible" (1993)
on our plate
a painted swan takes off
the white of porcelain
From "Swim of a Narrative" (2001)

The sensory perceptions are sharp and the language craftily framed.  Ambiguity and paradox tempt the reader with an array of possible meanings. The haikai spirit of casual effort and playfulness dominate.  I offer these observations to dissuade representatives of haiku orthodoxy from any easy dismissal of the poets individual style as idiosyncratic.  He writes in the manner that he does, in brief, not by accident or ineptitude but by design.  That he can write a perfectly sound and traditional haiku is evident from the examples above.

            The defender of a poet may easily prove to be his betrayer as well.  Ive cited two of Reichhold's haiku in isolation, having forcibly torn them from the sequences in which they appear.  No representation, in fact, could be more unfair to this particular poets stated aims.  The subtitle of this book, after all, is inter-genre sequences, and not selected or collected poems.

            An excellent introduction to the poet's methods and concerns is afforded by an early symbiotic sequence written with his wife Jane, "Blackbird Shadowing the Barbaric" (1993). Here, after the Baroque manner, the sixth stanza of Wallace Steven's celebrated poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," is appropriated and playfully glossed by Werner and Jane, the initial word of each 3 liner being determined by a borrowing from Steven's stanza. The work as a whole adopts the form of linked verse, with an alternation of three and two verse units, but without any concern for the requirements of moon or blossom stanzas, seasonal words or any of the other major or minor arcana of this highly regulated art. The outer form of renga is employed but emptied of its conventional contents.  Hence, one would not be too far astray in describing this practice as a cannibalization of form.  One sees three collaborators at work here: the passive text of Stevens, now reconstructed and recontextualized, with that of the voices of two living poets.

Where adherence to haiku or tanka conventions is largely illusory, where the semblance of these forms lies only in the retention of their standard lineation of three or five lines, one may perceive a logical aesthetic progression from the usurping of the outer form for new purposes, as in "Blackbird Shadowing the Barbaric," to what only a few years later, in "On Stage" (1995) and "In One Space  Chill of a Split" (1996), is transformed into a desire to animate the now vacant and static typographical form by simultaneity and a multiplication of variable readings of a text.
            How is this achieved?  In standard haiku or tanka, multiple readings (or what was classically termed surplus meaning) result largely from an understated and fragmentary text, from ambiguity that is derived from restraint, limitation and design.  The nonce form that is explored in these two titles -- a form that Reichhold dubs a helix, for the poem can be read both ways, first vertically and also horizontally -- seeks to expand contextual relations exponentially.
garden tendrils                                  characters
growing they become                        trapped
part of the house                               within their stream    
snake skin bent                                 the pair
a laughter moves it                            making eggs
almost shedding                                alike                                

Earlier this year, "Hours on My Path" continued this general line of experimentation and introduced a further degree of sophistication:
like a heron in no action       upstream dozing             the rafts man
                                                                                         spilling gin spilling spasm
                                                                                         Midsummer over willows
pebbles in my sponge    like tears on an albatross    I greet the fetal shoreline
                                                                                         as if there will be learning
                                                                                         on the longitude of sailors

The careful reader will readily recognize, in the left-to-right horizontal line as well as in the top-to-bottom vertical composition of the third column, a mimicry of haiku --- two haiku in this instance.  If the reader follows this same movement continuously, however, from left-to-right and top-to-bottom without interruption, he discovers that the five lines that constitute two haiku simultaneously equal one tanka.  "Hours on My Path" moves through twelve such stanzas with a mercurial shifting of person, place and thing and of their intimate complex of contextual relations.

One must admire the coherence of an artistic and poetic career that spans two continents and six decades as well as the continued verve and resolution that Werner Reichhold brings to the written word --- both in his native German and in his adopted English.  I have only managed to pass lightly over his artistic achievement in these prefatory notes.  I invite the reader to enter and partake of Reichhold's vision now and to allow his poetry to fulfill the promise that a commentary cannot.

Jeffrey Woodward
August 2007


Inter-genre Poetry       Previous Published

Sequence I - Six inter-genre Poems

1   Larval In Waiting -, Lynx, 2006
2   Swim of a Narrative -, Lynx, 2001
3   Ocean City -, Lynx, 2004
4   In Search - Aha Books, Cybertry III, 1998
5   It Passes  - Aha Books, Cybertry II, 2002
6   Copper on a Minaret  -, Lynx, 2003

Sequence II - Eleven Poems

7     Sampling    -, Lynx, 2005
8     Silently in My Hide -, Lynx, 2004
9     Unnamed Visible - Aha Books, Mirrors, 1993
10   Hours on My Path   -, Lynx, 2007
11   Tailored Pillows - Aha Books, Lynx, 1997
12   The Tightrope Walker - TSA Journal, Ribbons, 2006
13   Fairy Waters -, Lynx, 2002
14   This I An Early Knot - Tanka Journal, Japan, 2002   
15   Flying   -, Lynx, 2005
16   Not Even Daylight  -,  Lynx, 1999
17   Drifts by Contract  -, 2003


Sequence III - Nine Inter-genre Plays

18   Pina Bausch   -  Aha Books, Cybertry II, 1996
19   Cybernetically  -, Lynx, 2001
20   Briefing     - Lynx 1997
21   Oscillations - Lynx  1997
22   Interactions  - Lynx 1997
23   Soft Sparks  - Lynx 1997
24   A Pair of Points - Lynx 1997
25   No - play - Lynx 1997
26   WWW., Lynx, 2004    
27   Unobstrusive Permissible   - Lynx 1998


Sequence IV - Two  Helix

28   On Stage - Lynx 1995
29   In One Space Chill of a Split - Lynx  1996


Sequence V

30  Two Complementary Short Stories -, Lynx, 2004


Sequence VI - Symbiotic Poetry

31   Syrup’s Territory  - Lynx, 1994
       by Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
32   If I were Younger  - Lynx, 1997
       by Jane Reichhold and Werner Reichhold     
33   Wireless Rivals  - Lynx, 1997
       by Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
34   Blackbird Shadowing The Barbaric  - Lynx, 1993
       by Wallace Stevens, Jane Reichhold
       and Werner Reichhold
35   Natural Joke And Variable  - Lynx, 1993
       by Gertrude Stein, Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
36   Leaving Gold -  Aha Books, Mirrors, 1992
       by Virginia Woolf and Werner Reichhold     
37   The Leaf Danced - Aha Books, Mirrors, 1993
       by Virginia Woolf and Werner Reichhold
38   The Keeper of Two Doors   -
       by James Joyce and Werner Reichhold  - Lost and Found Times, Luna Bisonte Prods, 2004                 
39   The Apparition Gyrated -, 2003
       by James Joyce and Werner Reichhold